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Neuro-Linguistic Programming in Product Development

May 22, 2019

Despite widespread misconceptions, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is not only about communication and manipulations. And definitely not about the picks-up and sexual seduction. Never mind the Internet which is full of such articles and interpretations of NLP.

NLP as a system was born in the 1970s. Richard Bandler and John Grinder wanted to know how people can become professionals in an unknown area in a short period. They start to work with world-famous experts such as Virginia Satir, Milton Erickson, and Fritz Perls. Bandler analyzed the behavior of these experts and created their behavioral models. He turned conscious and unconscious behavior into mathematical formulas, which means that NLP as a system of modeling can help anybody become a world-class psychologist and get the same results.

Later they started to extend this knowledge.

Nowadays, using NLP, every person can become a great painter or mathematician. NLP is a fascinating and remarkably complicated approach to communication. Its primary goal is to help people to become better.

NLP is useful for IT sphere. Especially it can be helpful in product creation and product management. As you can guess, this knowledge is essential for Product owners and Business analysts.

In Dashdevs, a software development company, we use a scientific approach for the development of IT products. Particularly, when we develop the product from scratch, we become a part of the clients’ product team. Our client engagers comprise product owners, project managers, and business analysts in a single person. They learn psychology too. It helps them to understand potential users of the application better.

As I mentioned before — NLP is a powerful system of improvements for product owners. However, I would like to cover only two significant parts — the presuppositions of NLP and the representative system of human beings.

NLP Presuppositions

The whole NLP system is based on presuppositions. They are the core rules that guide you for a better understanding of another person. Is this something we need as product owners? The understanding of the target audience is the key to success for any product.

Let’s tour through some NLP presuppositions from a Product owner point of view.

Respect other person’s model of the world

Product owners and decision-makers on the product side often think that they are the target audience. Although, usually, this is a misconception. Especially when you work with mobile applications, it is a typical case when the product owner wants some feature in the product only because he/she would like to have it. In the future, this part of the application is unused by real users. The same is with style, design, and texts.

Suggestion: the first stage of product development is all about the target audience persona. You need to provide some investigations about the reality of the persona, needs, and problems they have. The application you create must make the life of the target audience better. After developing the prototype, you need to make sure it fits the needs of your target audience.

Communication is in the responses you get

The meaning of communication with your target users is not merely what you intend to achieve, but rather the responses you get.

You communicate with your target audience using your app. I’m not talking about the chats. You develop a feature, and if a user likes it, then it will be in use. Communication requires two-side participation. You, as a product owner, need to be always ready to receive feedback. It can be both good or bad. It does not matter. You need to hear it from your target audience.

Suggestion: There are two ways for your target audience to speak to you: words and actions. First of all, your users can give you feedback writing a review to your application in the App Store or Google Play. Another effective way is to implement analytics to the app as well as a system of users’ activity monitoring. You’ll have an understanding of the user behavior in the application, and if they don’t use some part of the functionality, you need to revise it. However, analytics can’t answer the question of why they act this or that way.

The map is not the territory

This presupposition is my favorite one. First of all, our users respond to their experience, not to reality itself. Your application may be a super cool high-tech solution. But users may not use it only because in their world it has no purpose. While you create the idea of the application, you may identify yourself as a persona. You think about what is comfortable and understandable for you as for the user. But you may miss some core aspects of the users’ reality. Comparison of the map and territory is demonstrative. Maps are always flat. But the real territory is complicated. The mapped roads may be covered with holes, while the landscape can be still like in a fairy tale. The same is with projecting the application according to the users’ maps that we create. Our maps are just our assumption. And we need to compare them with the users’ world. Such an arrangement of the process is crucial for new products.

Suggestion: First of all, you can create a community of loyal users. They can help you to make regular comparisons with the users’ reality. You can provide the community with prototypes and beta versions of the application. By the way, this is a valuable source of improvements and new features. Every community strives to make the product better.

Every behavior has a positive intention

Your users want to interact with your application and get its benefits. Yet, sometimes you can get a bunch of bad reviews of your product. Your first reaction may be dissatisfaction. You spent so many hours building your application, and users just don’t get how it works. Bad-bad users!

Nevertheless, your users look at this situation from another point of view. As users, they may have only good intentions. There is even a book about it — “A Complaint Is a Gift: Using Customer Feedback as a Strategic Tool” by Janelle Barlow and Claus Møller.

Suggestion: start processing every feedback about your product as a recommendation to make it better. Every user is a friend of yours. If you think that they are enemies, you can miss perspective ideas. Be patient, apply a positive attitude and be open-minded.

There is no failure, only feedback

A lot of product owners are afraid of the fails. Still a screw up can happen. It can cost much for the company. However, you need to learn the lesson.

Suggestion: to get the best from any failure, you need to do a retrospective analysis of your every step. You must be unprejudiced and evaluate every action. You need to think through the markers of future failure you had already seen but didn’t react correctly. It is the way for self-improvement.

If what you undertake doesn’t work, try something different

If your marketing campaign doesn’t bring you a conversion rate, you need to change it. Try something new. If the feature is not popular among your audience, you need to change it or delete from the app. Do not keep the same approach, if it doesn’t give you the results you want. NLP has the TOTE model for the strategy run. It consists of Test => Operate => Test => Exit steps.

Suggestion: every product must have a backlog with the number of features. It must not be just one-line idea but worked-through functionality with estimates. If your current functionality doesn’t work, you need to implement a new one or change the existing one.

Representational System

Every user is unique. Since you know that they have different territories and their own reality. How does it come that we have different visions while looking at the same application? The answer is in different channels of perception. Let me explain. People perceive information via sounds (auditory), images (visual), tactile sensation (kinesthetic), and tastes or smells (gustatory and olfactory). That’s why when testing the app, we notice different aspects. For mobile apps, the first three channels of the representational system are crucial. Let’s overview them.

Visual

The easy one. It is about the user interface (UI) of the application. The visual design is the first thing the user sees in the application. The colors, elements, and sizes are essential. The user must accept them. Here we get back to the presupposition about the respect of the users’ reality and territory.

Here is an example, we had a harmonious and balanced design for the inventory accounting application. The primary colors were white, purple, and red.

But the target audience is the men. They will be not happy with these colors. The design itself is perfect, but the appliance is wrong.

Audial

The most underrated channel of communication between the user and your app.

Your application can have unique sounds for some actions, notifications, and key functionality. The sounds are crucial for games and kids’ applications. The development of unique audio content requires experience.

Kinesthetic

This channel of the representative system is the most complicated one. Let’s take a more precise look on it. First of all, now we are talking about user experience (UX). The designer creates a design for an application, for its users. I want to be more clear with the explanation. The user of your application is busy. He/she doesn’t want to be bothered with navigation. The main requirement is to be able to manage everything in the application with one hand. That’s why the designer must think about thumb reachable zones for all calls to action (CTA).

Another important thing is haptics. All this small vibration when the user is changing the settings make interaction with your user more colorful. Remember that we discussed earlier. Haptics is the best way to improve communication between the user and the application. The user asks your app to do something, and the app vibrates in response.

Suggestion: Your application must cover all these channels of the representative system of your users. Keep this information in mind when you work on the product.


Development of the app is a complicated process. It is not only about tech and design. The user is always at the top of the development process.

The aspect of users’ psychology must be taken into account too. If you aim to create a ground-breaking product, you need to be ready to spend some time on it.

Learning is about looking at things differently, making your life a little better every day.

Richard Bandler